Share via Email Illustration: My friend Miranda has accompanied me here for moral support. We scale a no-frills metal staircase at the end of an alleyway behind the high street, where a weary blond woman is ruling a domain of coats, cash and lists.
She has a defeated manner, like the only sober person at a party when everyone is drunk. I have no idea why I decided to make myself look so dowdy. Miranda is doing much better; she has obediently put on a basque, along with a skirt much shorter than mine, and boots that elongate her long legs.
It was the easiest way of manipulating our actual names without revealing the fact that we are both black. His presence is comforting; he seems like an island of sanity in a sea of grotesque chaos. The first thing I see, once Eddie has led us past the dancefloor and the bar, is a shaven-headed black man on his knees on a large bed, with a white woman on all fours, doggy-style.
He is wearing an unbuttoned shirt, and nothing else; she is in a basque, suspenders and boots. Another man is kneeling next to him, waiting his turn. To the left, on the same sateen mattress, a woman is kneeling with her back to us, naked from the waist down.
A man has his hand on her ample butt cheeks. Other men hover around the bed, beers in hand, watching. In pride of place is a swing. Members of the community — both white women and black men — are active on Twitter, where they share pictures of exceptionally large black penises and rough sex in which a black man clearly dominates. In an era of mass porn consumption, black male porn actors having sex with white women is a popular subgenre, and BMWW black man white woman erotic novels specifically cater to the fantasy of crudely stereotyped black male aggression and sexual domination.
Wayne has just come out of a playroom, and has barely bothered to put his clothes back on — his flies low, shirt open, and tie hung nonchalantly around his neck. You have to acknowledge nature. And thirdly, they are just more dominant. You know, a lot of these women are not satisfied by their husbands, who want them to do all the work.
They want to feel a strong man inside them, dominating them. They want an alpha male. Wayne is leery, drunk, and has a tendency to lean precariously towards me. I can see Miranda looking similarly unnerved.
Both men are surprisingly happy to answer my increasingly probing questions. I knew there would be older, suburban white couples. But I assumed the men would be sex workers, strippers, or otherwise incentivised guests, whose role was to perform the required services. But these are unremarkable, middle-class black men. When I ask if they feel fetishised because of their race, they vigorously deny it. Plus, there are no pretences. Why are black men willing to embrace the myths of hypersexuality and abnormally large endowment?
And I think some black men have bought into the myth that they are hypersexual, that their sexual prowess and the size, the physicality, is greater. When Europeans first came into contact with the African continent, they indulged in an imaginative riot of fantasy. Elizabethan travel books contained a heady mix of fact and pure invention, which confused English readers and popularised wildly fictional versions of the place and its people. African men had enormous penises, these accounts suggested.
Stereotypes about the sexual prowess of black people have an equally illustrious presence in literature, journalism and art. They think we're all sensual, all of us are Rihanna. They are very threatened but secretly, they want to be with us Black men are still unfairly portrayed as rapists — not least by US president Donald Trump, who in called for the death penalty for five black teenagers, the so-called Central Park Five convicted of raping a female jogger in New York.
Their convictions were later overturned and the miscarriage of justice these young men had suffered exposed. But in , Trump still refused to accept their innocence. Stereotypes of black and other ethnic minority men as sexually threatening on the one hand, and sexually desirable on the other, are two sides of the same hypersexuality myth. The former continue in inaccurate data spread virally on social media, pointing to false statistics about the prevalence of sexual assaults by black men.
She knows a lot about the swinging scene because, together with her husband, she has been a keen swinger for a decade. If there is a stereotype of your average British swinger, Sarah is not it. She is black, as is her husband, in a scene that is known to be predominantly white.
Sarah loves these parties. She describes the pleasure of slipping on expensive underwear and a cocktail gown, looking and smelling exquisite, knowing that every ounce of effort will be explored and appreciated by numerous partners of both sexes. She talks about arriving, and the breathtaking impression of the venues — imposing stately homes in landscaped gardens, her husband in black tie by her side, being served champagne and oysters, and meeting other like-minded and often impressive couples.
Then, she explains, the lights are dimmed, and people begin retreating to a series of decadent playrooms. Sometimes Sarah and her husband notice, when they arrive, a sharp intake of breath. And her husband was the one who found people for her. My wife loves black men. I have a vagina, you have a vagina. I know as a black woman I am always going to be fetishised to an extent — and the darker you are, the more you are. If they could, they would have one of us in their houses in a room, just kept there, for when needed.
But then sex and relationships are one of the last remaining bastions of unreconstructed racial prejudice. Sex is, in some ways, a very tangible expression of the deeper currents of prejudice in this country. As a brutally self-conscious mixed-race teenage girl in suburban London, one of my earliest experiences of having a black identity was the way boys behaved towards me.
It was a lot for a year-old girl, just waking up to her sexuality, as well as her increasingly confusing racial identity, to bear. These boys and I had more in common than any of us probably realised.
We were all living out — albeit in very different ways — the complex and painful legacy of slavery-era sexual ideologies. They manifest in a number of surprising ways. Take dating, for example. The vast majority of people, in all countries and from all cultural backgrounds, enter into relationships with people from the same racial, ethnic or cultural-linguistic group. But in Britain, black people are far more likely to enter into interracial relationships than other people of colour.
That creates, in simple terms, a shortage. For black women, doing what most people do and seeking a partner of the same ethnic background as them, the odds are not in their favour.
One consequence is that there are many black women in Britain with no prior experience of interracial relationships, now seeking them, only to find their newfound open-mindedness is not reciprocated. One anecdotal example of this is my friend Yvonne. Frustrated at being single in her late 30s, Yvonne invested several thousand pounds in an expensive matchmaking service.
She decided it was an investment worth making to find a partner who, like her, works in the City and would share her ambition. With two black parents, and a mainly black social circle, she had always imagined herself with a black partner. But the paucity of single black men with similar lifestyles led her to consider dating someone of a different race.
The problem was, she never received any expressions of interest from the single white men she knew. None of the men on one matchmaking database was willing to date a black woman In the hands of a bespoke matchmaking service, which spent hours eliciting intimate details about her personality, interests and views on relationships, a good deal of time-wasting would be stripped away.
In the end, the service ended up refunding her money because, they told her apologetically, they could not find her a date — not one single match. None of the men on their database was willing to seriously date a black woman. Some were open to casual romance, but had stated that they would not consider a black woman as a long-term partner.
They were matter-of-fact, as if it was somehow obvious that a black woman might dissolve when exposed to a non-urban environment, like Dracula in sunlight. Studies suggest that this is happening on a wider scale. The problem with these kinds of stereotypes — other than that they originate in racist ideology — is that they both repel and attract people for the wrong reasons.
Many black women are aware of being seen through this stereotype-laden lens, in turn making them feel suspicious of the men who do approach them.
I remember this suspicion as a teenager, feeling that white boys and men, for whom I was often the first black woman they had ever met, did not see me, but whatever it was that they were projecting on to my blackness: I was exotic, freaky, strong, supernatural.
Women who arrived in Britain as part of the Windrush generation of Caribbean migrant workers, recruited by the government to work in the public sector after the war, were met with hurtful sexual expectations.